Every weekend in May dozens of people clutching matching maps will be pounding the pavements of Brighton and beyond, on the trail of artistic treasure in this year’s Artist’s Open Houses.
The foundations of the Artist’s Open Houses (AOH) were laid in 1982 when Fiveways artist, Ned Hoskins, invited the public into his home to view his own work and that of a group of friends. Other artists in the area followed suit to form the Fiveways Artists Group. The idea proved popular with visitors to Brighton and soon more trails sprang up around the city. The Open Houses became a regular feature in the Brighton Fringe and in 2004 the Artist’s Open Houses was set up uniting the hitherto 13 disparate trails.
Today, the AOH is an important festival in its own right, attracting hundreds of visitors who enjoy this inventive, creative and engaging way to appreciate local art. This year, the 14 trails lead to 196 spaces where visitors can view, buy or sample the work of over 1200 of the city’s resident artists. As well as private homes, these spaces include churches, studios, cafes, a hotel and even a former cinema and a public toilet! By inviting art lovers into their homes, artists give their visitors a more personal and unique experience than they would normally get in a shop or gallery – often with a cup of tea and a slice of cake thrown in for good measure.
One artist who is opening his home this year is Lee Needham. A Brighton resident for over 20 years and a regular visitor to the AOH Lee says:
“I have always enjoyed these experiences, especially on a sunny afternoon; wandering the streets of my adoptive city with a scrumpled up brochure and barely legible map, trying to work out the street’s location then eagerly seeking the iconic banners with which to pinpoint the house. Inevitably, what awaited me was a warm welcome into a home where, more often than not, I have discovered some great art and craft. It really was like finding gold in a treasure hunt,”
Lee left his career in digital media four years ago and began painting full time (examples of Lee’s work below). He has sold some work in group shows but this year he decided to open up his house (and studio) for the first time.
“I considered doing this as a solo exhibitor, but my experiences of group shows led me to believe that the more practical and fun option would involve other artists. I am fortunate that, during my two decades in the city, I have met and befriended several other artists, of all kinds. It was therefore a relatively simple task to contact and organise my hugely talented artist friends. I am proud to announce that the result is an eclectic and vibrant display of paintings, illustrations, photographs and fabrics etc in my home, under the banner of the Windmill Collective.”
Among the 9 artists exhibiting at 53 Windmill Street (house no 4) on the Hanover trail, is Sophie Wake. Sophie graduated with a degree in Illustration from Brighton University in 1996 and has since worked for clients in advertising, editorial and publishing, from Hyundai and Marks & Spencer to regular commissions for The Saturday Guardian and BBC publications as well as collaborative animation projects for Telecom and Heathrow Terminal 5. Sophie is currently enjoying break from the hectic busy whirl of tight deadlines and is joyously painting for her own pleasure. Her animal portraits are proving very popular with visitors to the Windmill.
“I loved working on the paintings for the collection and its been great getting together with my artist friend Lee needham-Park, whose gorgeous house we are exhibiting in. The private view was brilliant fun and to top it all I have sold far more prints than I had expected and an oil on canvas too! Plus lots of greetings cards I had made to support the work for this collection, and finally meeting many interesting people along the way…so I would say, so far so very good indeed!”
Jessica Christie-Miller is another Open-Houser who has chosen to welcome the public into the 7-Dials home she shares with her husband, 3 children and dog. Jessica, who has a background in retail display, prop making for window design and fashion styling, says:
“I was having a chat with a friend Rosie Gifford, married to artist Andrew Gifford and we got talking about how we are both very creative people but didn’t feel we had a proper platform to show our work. I had recently completed an upholstery course and had started to make memo boards for friends and she was doing an art class specialising in portraits. Because we live in Brighton setting up our AOH was relatively straight forward, once we decided to go for it. The Brighton AOH has a fantastic website that makes you feel welcome and encourages you to take the first steps…..”
Jessica started by exhibiting their art in the ‘Snug’ – a small room off her kitchen, but soon realised that it would take more than one room to show all of the work, so she dedicated the whole of the downstairs to art and jewellery and crafts – and the garden for selling plants.
Jessica says: “It’s been a real success and it has given me and my friends a real boost. I am now moving on to the next level with more established artists – I can’t say it hasn’t come with out its trials and tribulations, the dog can can be a challenge at times, but we love receiving guests into the house and get to meet some really interesting people.”
The Preston Park Recovery Centre, a beautiful Victorian villa overlooking Preston Park, is taking part in AOH for the second year running. Over 50 clients of Southdown’s Mental Health Recovery Centre are exhibiting over 120 pieces of art art that includes paintings, film, photography, and sculpture.
Beth Shepherd, Southdown’s Recovery Pathway Manager at the Centre, said, “One of the reasons why it’s really important for us to be involved in the festival is because it helps demystify what a mental health recovery centre is. People can come and see for themselves what it’s like; a friendly, safe space open for anyone that needs support.”
Lynne Thomas, Manager of Southdown’s Mental Health Recovery Services at Southdown added, “We get people through the door who would never usually come to a mental health recovery centre. They have then shared experiences of mental health challenges in their own family.”
A unique house to visit is Richard Zinzan’s ARCH angels Art House, an Eco renovation house with its own installation room. Richard, Director of ARCH-angels Architects, says:
“Opening up your house for the festival is a wonderful experience. It gives you an unique opportunity to meet so many interesting people you would not normally cross paths with. The installation was initially thought up to create a 3d interior in a room but we have seen it develop into more of a personal expression and we are really enjoying the direction it has taken. We still have three more weekends so please do come down and add to the developing live art work of “Don’t stand behind the line” installation.”
Another highlight of this year’s AOH is The Ceramic House, a showcase of architectural ceramics in the home of Kay Aplin. Kay says:
“After 20 years of creating public art commissions usually in far-away places, it gave me the opportunity to show my work in context, rather than direct people to images on a website. Since opening for the first time in 2011, my focus as an artist has grown and evolved. By default I became a curator, and my experience and skill in this area grows year on year. Once a year, I curate themed exhibitions with leading ceramists and the reputation of The Ceramic House is ever-expanding. I have received critical acclaim in national magazines and have the opportunity to work with world-class artists and in 2013 we were awarded Best Artists Open House.”
The latest development has been to convert the garage into a mini white cube gallery, In Camera. This year, The Ceramic House presents Landscape : Islands, an exploration in ceramics and sound. Landscape : Islands brings together a group of international, renowned ceramic artists who live on or come from islands, and their work responds to the landscape around them. During May, Joseph Young, in partnership with Aural Detritus, has curated a programme of intimate sound art performances at In Camera.
Evolution Arts offers a range of exciting creative courses and workshops where you can make art whilst having fun and meeting new people. This time next year you could even be exhibiting some of it in your own home!